[LISTENED TO: Week of August 30, 2010] Ulysses
While I was reading Ulysses for the group read at Infinite Zombies, I thought it would be (more) enjoyable to listen to the book. So much of the book is, if not musical, at least euphonious [since I'm talking Ulysses, I'm throwing in big words, eh?].
Nevertheless, when you receive the Ulysses box from another library and you see that it is FORTY discs, and the running time is over 40 hours, it’s a bit daunting. When you start reading a book you have a vague sense of how long it will take you, but you never see it written so starkly: 40 hours. Jaysus wept.
I’m almost 20 hours into the book now, so I’m going to mention things up to Episode 12.For the most part the book is more enjoyable to listen to than to read (although there are some interesting punctuation and physical items that you miss out on). What is especially commendable about the audio book (which some may even say is cheating a bit–although I think with a book like this any help is a good thing) is that the narrator Donal Donnelly (Miriam Healy-Louie will read Molly’s soliloquy chapter) makes a distinction between internal monologue and spoken words. The introduction to the book states that scholars and the Joyce estate worked together to find the most realistic and likely emphases for the book, and I really helps to clarify a number of things. He also works in an amazing number of accents (I imagine him having a little sampler to remember who is who, how else could he keep them straight?) which really helps to segregate who is saying what.
The first several Episodes don’t really need this kind of interpretation. The dialogue in Episode 1 is fun to hear, and the internal monologue of Episode 2 comes across nicely (and actually the school room setting is better for it). Episode 3 is a daunting chapter to read or to listen to. One of the bad things about listening to the book is that you can be lulled into not listening. And I think that may have happened a bit here.
The introduction of Bloom in Episode 4 is notable for the way the tone changes. It’s apparent in the writing but it really comes across in the narration. Episode 5 helped me to notice a few details that I missed while reading it (of course it could just be a second reading that would assist with that). The details of Bantam Lyons getting the tip on Throwaway are slightly, but not greatly, clearer–those details come out a bit later.
Episode 6 is the first one where the narration makes a real difference. There are the 4 men in the car and then there’s Bloom’s thoughts. And separating them with different voices really makes this chapter more complete. It’s not a difficult chapter by the book’s standards, but it really helps to set the tone of how you can understand that Bloom is thinking these things, and that his thoughts are interrupting spoken sentences. (He has a multiple-paragraph-thought while people are speaking to him). It also shows a bit more about Rudy than I realized.
Episode 7–the newspaper headings–is a weird one, but I found the narration was definitely helpful. There are many things in the Episode that I simply didn’t get while reading it, and the narration’s emphases really clear that up. Interestingly, I noticed that the narrator missed three newspaper headlines which ran across the top of the right hand page. And the only reason I know that is because one is my favorite: “K.M.R.I.A” (and it’s one that I looked forward to hearing). The second (at line 272) “Short But to the Point” I noticed because I was looking for a place to pause the disc and the third one I didn’t notice until just now when I was flipping through the book is “? ? ?” and I’m curious how he would have read that.
The problem I had with this Episode in general is I have no real sense of where it is set. It appears to be in a newspaper room, but are all of these men, the men we’ve seen throughout the book, just hanging out here? And then Stephen comes in and hangs out here too? The narration doesn’t clear that up as far as I can tell, but the Episode’s dialogue is a bit easier to follow. I was also able to follow Stephen’s “plum story” a little better, but I think that’s because I was looking for it.
Episode 8 follows Bloom around. This chapter is enjoyable because you really get inside Bloom’s head. And you really understand what the odd little sound effects that Joyce wrote are meant to indicate. It also really comes to life when Bloom goes into the restaurant and watches people eating.
Episode 9 (the one about Shakespeare) was still hard to follow in the audio (and it’s my least favorite Episode). True, some of it was made more clear by the narration, but I think I just didn’t care enough about what they were talking about to really get into it. A lot of divergent topics are covered in the novel, and a detailed academic discussion about Shakespeare was one thing I didn’t care about. However, I will say that I was able to pick up on a lot of smaller details that I glossed over when I was trying to keep up with the reading. I think reading a section that is not gripping makes me read a bit more quickly and hence more sloppily, where as the listening, since it never speeds up, prevents you from glossing over the details.
Episode 10, the one about all of the different characters in the book, was a lot of fun to listen to. I think also, a second reading of the book makes this Episode all the more clear. What is fun to notice is that all of the events are occurring more or less simultaneously. I’m imagining an interactive overhead view of Dublin, where you can see the different things happening and you can focus on one bit at a time. So this time I noticed Molly throwing the coin out the window from several different angles (although I don’t think it’s evident that it is her at this point yet). And see below for stuff about a throwaway.
Episode 11 was very well cleared up for me in the audio version. There is a lot of back and forth going on here, and it was never clear to me where Bloom was and what he was commenting on. It’s a very busy episode and there’s a lot of euphony in it. There’s alliteration as well as musical sing song. The audiobook made it clear that Bloom was in the same building as Si Dedalus and the others, but he is apparently in another part of the building (bar vs restaurant). So he can hear all of the music, but can’t see the players. I’m also unclear if they know he’s there.
I also had a hard time interpreting the disjointed nature of the bar area and Bloom’s own thoughts while he was eating. But this helped to clarify quite a bit. The one thing I still didn’t get was if Bronze and Gold in the beginning are talking about Bloom when they are grossed out about the thought of marrying a (greasy) man. It sounds like they are talking about him, but their description of his seems inaccurate.
But clearly the best part of this Episode, and a part which I missed completely when reading it is the humorous (if not childish) final portion:
Must be the bur.
Fff. Oo. Rrpr.
Nations of the earth. No-one behind. She’s passed. Then and not till then. Tram. Kran, kran, kran. Good oppor. Coming. Krandlkrankran. I’m sure it’s the burgund. Yes. One, two. Let my epitaph be. Karaaaaaaa. Written. I have.
The audio makes it perfectly clear that all of these strange words are Bloom farting (must be the burgundy acting up). How puerile, and yet how funny.
Episode 12 is a very difficult one to read as well. This is the one with The Citizen. And the hostility in the audio is palpable (The Citizen’s accent is great, by the way). Some things I picked up from the audio book that I missed upon reading:
- The men claim that Bloom’s father had defrauded a lot of people with a “scheme”–something about cheap fares [Did this really happen?] which may be why he killed himself.
- Lenehan is the one who “makes up” that Bloom is going to pick up his winnings from Throwaway. And everyone else picks up the idea and runs with it.
- Martin Cunningham, even though he has been nice to Bloom, joins in in the Bloom bashing at the end of the Episode
- And the Citizen who at some point dismisses “The Bible” then gets mad at Bloom for “using the holy name.”
One other thing that I noticed upon listening, and it may be evident if you read closely is that the flier for Elijah, the throwaway, crops up a lot in Episode 10. I assume this has something to do with the “tip” that Bloom gives, this piece of Throwaway.
You can see it begin in Episode 8, and then it recurs four times in Episode 10. (It also makes me think that the Liffey was a disgusting river back in 1904).
- His slow feet walked him riverward, reading. Are you saved? All are washed in the blood of the lamb. God wants blood victim. Birth, hymen, martyr, war, foundation of a building, sacrifice, kidney burntoffering, druid’s altars. Elijah is coming. Dr John Alexander Dowie, restorer of the church in Zion, is coming.
- He threw down among them a crumpled paper ball. Elijah thirtytwo feet per sec is com. Not a bit. The ball bobbed unheeded on the wake of swells, floated under by the bridge piers.
- A skiff, a crumpled throwaway, Elijah is coming, rode lightly down the Liffey, under Loopline bridge, shooting the rapids where water chafed around the bridgepiers, sailing eastward past hulls and anchorchains, between the Customhouse old dock and George’s quay.
- North wall and sir John Rogerson’s quay, with hulls and anchorchains, sailing westward, sailed by a skiff, a crumpled throwaway, rocked on the ferry-wash, Elijah is coming.
- Elijah, skiff, light crumpled throwaway, sailed eastward by flanks of ships and trawlers, amid an archipelago of corks, beyond new Wapping street past Benson’s ferry, and by the three-masted schooner Rosevean from Bridgwater with bricks.
- At the corner of Wilde’s he halted, frowned at Elijah’s name announced on the Metropolitan Hall, frowned at the distant pleasance of duke’s lawn.
This Episode also features a great deal of talk about Irish culture and the Irish language and Irish games. The Citizen is definitely a pompous ass, and yet his country pride is fascinating. I wonder if Joyce had any of this kind of Irish love in him or if it was all just for a character who could make fun of outsiders.
I’m enjoying the Listen of the book very much (even the really really dense sections of Chapter 12 were kind of interesting to hear–I’d much rather listen to those super long lists than have to read them. And, there’s the one part (which has to do with spirits and ghosts) that I never ever would have guessed the proper way to pronounce, but the audio makes them very clear.
their abodes were equipped with every modern home comfort such as tālāfānā, ālāvātār, hātākāldā, wātāklāsāt and that the highest adepts were steeped in waves of volupcy of the very purest nature.
[the words with the ā he reads as telephone, elevator hot-ak-kaldah? and watercloset (all with odd pronunciations of course]
I can’t say that listening is better than reading the book, as I have just read it and I don’t know if I’m getting so much more from it because it’s a second quick reading or the because it’s audio. But I find that I am getting a great deal more from this listen.
And I look forward to the remaining 20 hours.